Friday, October 22, 2010

If Everyone With a Prejudice Was Fired for Honestly Admitting It, No One Would Have a Job

I think it is a crying shame that NPR fired long-time journalist and commentator Juan Williams yesterday for honestly sharing a prejudice.  What he said was indeed expressing a prejudice, there is no doubt about that, but it is only once we all start being honest with ourselves and in our conversations about our prejudices that we can see them for what they are and work on them.  Feelings are never right or wrong, acceptable or unacceptable, it is how we choose to act on our feelings that counts.  Juan Williams is not a bigot, in fact, he is a champion of civil rights and fairness for all.  Every single one of us has prejudices.  Should we just never express them and hide them away in the closet?  There is a truism often quoted in 12-step programs that says "You are only as sick as your secrets."  In other words, only by being honest with ourselves and others can we be healthy, and this applies, I think, not only to individuals but to society. Pretending we aren't afraid of something, someone or some group only makes the fear grow darker and more powerful.  Acknowledging it, owning it and exploring it takes the power from fear and empowers us to choose how we act.

What Juan Williams specifically said was admitting a fear.  He didn't say the fear was fair, in fact, I think the whole point was that he was admitting a prejudice.  We would all be healthier as individuals and a nation if we searched our souls and did the same.  What he actually said is that, when he is on a plane, if he sees someone in Muslim "garb" (his word), he feels fear.  That is indeed a prejudice, as just because someone is wearing the clothing of their culture and/or their religion, it certainly doesn't mean they are a terrorist with intentions to blow up an airplane.  Juan's feeling of fear in that situation is both prejudiced and somewhat irrational.  Yet it is his feeling and feelings don't have to be fair or entirely (or even partially) rational.  I said it before but it definitely bears repeating:  feelings are feelings, it is how we choose to act on them that counts.

Juan Williams has consistently stood for civil rights, fairness and justice in his career, and he is also very honest.  Unfortunately, he was unjustly fired yesterday for just that refreshing honesty that our society so desperately needs to be healthy.  The most disgusting part to me was when the person from NPR who fired him said that his remark should be between him and "his psychiatrist".  What an ugly, ignorant, uncalled for, classless attack.  She's the one who made an inappropriate comment, an attacking, ugly comment.  Juan Williams, on the other hand, was honestly admitting a fear and prejudice, in order to further the dialog about it in our country.

From earlier blogs of mine, for example, when I came out strongly for the mosque to be built near Ground Zero, you all know I stand against discrimination, for fairness, and passionately for civil rights.  That is precisely why I do NOT have a problem with, and indeed actually applaud, anyone who can admit a prejudice.  We all have them.  Admitting a prejudiced feeling does not equate to behaving with discrimination in our actions.  It doesn't mean that person is a bigot.  Far from it!  Admitting a prejudice means that person is honest with themselves and the world, and is willing to face their fears, which is the only way to move past them to a tolerant world.